Category Music

Tenth Annual Songs of Summer

Ten summers ago, this space decided to kick off the season by digging into the vault of popular songs devoted to the unrepentant joys and indulgences of summer. Fun season, fun music, fun blog post.

Three songs had made that cut, with multiple readers sending in suggestions/lamentations about others that they thought should have. So when summer rolled around again a year later, it seemed right and proper and, well, traditional, to offer up a second volume.

So here we are, 10 years in, the field of potential songs grown a bit thinner, most of the low-hanging fruit almost picked clean (all previous iterations listed in order here), but with classics still available to those with some idle time on their hands.

And if “idle time on their hands” isn’t the very quintessence of summer, we should hardly bother to talk or write or listen to songs about it at all, should we?

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Every season has its charms, bu...

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Brilliant Songs #29: K.C. Douglas’s “Mercury Boogie”

The light & the dark, the transcendent & tragic, the hopeful & hopeless—it’s all mixed and jumbled up, both gladdening and tormenting us in alternate takes, asking us to swallow it whole as the price of our humanity. Surely, the dark forces that seem all around us at the moment are real enough, and they want nothing more than to have us surrender to their come-hither, sucking sound of despair.

They tempt us, the ultimate menacing seductress, to give in, give up, lose faith in the notion that goodness and beauty and even lightness of heart can persist, can still have a say, in the face of recurrent evil.

Evil wants us to think that joy is trivial and inappropriate to our circumstance, that art and music and dancing are frivolities, for dillettantes only, unfit for somber times.

Persisting in hope, joy, play and art is the ultimate, meaningful riposte, a political and spiritual act, a necessary means to co...

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Brilliant Songs #28: Mike Batt’s “Market Day in Guernica”

Eighty-five years ago this past week, April 26, 1937, was a market day in Guernica, Spain. It was a Monday, when farmers from the surrounding countryside would bring their crops into the town square to sell to residents and others who flowed in from surrounding towns in the autonomous Basque Country.

The Spanish Civil War was raging at the time, pitting the Republican government against General Francisco Franco’s rebel Nationalist faction and fascist allies Germany and Italy. Guernica, with a population of some 5,000, had not been a center of combat, but it stood some 30 kilometers east of Bilbao, population nearly 200,000, which Franco coveted as a strategically important possession to bring the government to its knees.

Batt was looking back to Guernica when he wrote this song, but nearly 20 years on and still active, the Twitter hashtag he features next to his name @MikeBatt is #StandWithUkraine.

That ma...

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Brilliant Songs #27: Joanna Newsom’s “Baby Birch”

Sometimes, all we want and need is a short declarative bellow hooked into something hummable and danceable.

“I wanna hold your ha-aa-aa-a-anddd!”

“I can’t get noooo….satisfack-shun!”

“I seeee the ba-ad moon a-risin’!”

Other times, we slow the pace, lower the volume and still ourselves for a close listen to a story as it unspools from the mind and imagination of a singing poet as she frames a multi-layered tale across time, space and memory.

Her songs consistently beg big questions but just as consistently refuse the beggar, short-circuiting our Need to Know…

At 40 years old, the nearly unclassifiable Joanna Newsom has been telling such tales for two decades now as a singer-songwriter and harpist. (Yes, the harp!)

Hints of classical music accompany the harp, of course, like wispy clouds joyriding in an aural mashup that wafts along with strains of indie folk, “chamber folk,” avant garde, jazz, and hybrids c...

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Four Puccini Arias To Die For (a Thousand Times)

No, the world will not be saved from its suffering, no matter the tireless efforts of peacemakers and people of goodwill to bring about, finally, the kind of heaven, or at least a sense of repose, to the earth that its human inhabitants have always dreamed and written and sung and painted about. But as we have seen countless times before, there can be great nobility in that suffering.

That does not mean we suffer any the less, nor that we have the final word on tragedy or the last laugh on oppressors who visit terrors upon us.

But it does mean that within our travails, whether in love or war or both, we come to a deeper sense of all that is life, all that is death, the whole riddle wrapped in the enigma and rolled into the package that presents itself to us upon birth and proclaims, “Here, make something of this, if you will, if you can, though suffer you must…”

Perhaps no art form elaborates upon the dept...

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